Recent NY Times Articles on BDS

On July 27, three veteran NY Times reporters wrote “an explainer” on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement against Israel, entitled “Is B.D.S. Anti-Semitic? A Closer Look at the Boycott Israel Campaign.”  Some of us at TTN felt that this article was soft-pedaling how the movement’s leadership was opposed not just to Israeli settlements and occupation, but to Israel’s existence. 

This view is supported in a published JTA discussion, “What The New York Times got right and wrong about BDS: An exchange,” between the JTA’s editor in chief Andrew Silow-Carroll and its opinion editor Laura E. Adkins.   Ms. Adkins’ “biggest beef” with the article is that:

. . . The Times is softening the language used on the BDS movement’s official website, which calls not for an end to the occupation of land captured in 1967, but for an end to the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” which certainly includes Tel Aviv and Jaffa as much as it does Ramallah and Bethlehem.

The movement’s site further asserts that “For nearly seventy years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. Israel maintains a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.” The only logical conclusion of this statement – and of the actions of BDS supporters – is that the movement calls not for a retreat to the 1967 borders, but for the destruction of the modern state of Israel. It is not just “many Israelis,” as The Times asserts, who see things this way.  . . .

Silow-Carroll responded by congratulating her for “a good deep read.”  Still, earlier in their discussion, he had applauded the three Times writers for “explaining that BDS — the actual movement, under the umbrella of the Palestinian BDS National Committee — is not a ‘peace’ movement in the sense that they want a just outcome for Israel and the Palestinians.”  The Times analysis procured the following admission from Omar Barghouti, the primary international spokesperson for the movement:

[He] called the Israeli laws racist and exclusionary. A democratic state could still provide asylum for Jewish refugees, showing “some sensitivity to the Jewish experience,” he said, “but it cannot be a racist law that says only Jews benefit.” Asked if that means Jews cannot have their own state, he said, “Not in Palestine.”

Our TTN colleague, Eric Alterman (CUNY Distinguished Professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, as well as media columnist for The Nation) has written a very reasonable piece about the politics and economics of BDS, with a title he did not choose: “Does Anyone Take the B.D.S. Movement Seriously?” He noted the movement’s lack of effectiveness in damaging Israel economically, but did mention some concern over efforts to delegitimize Israel, especially on university campuses.  His major point was to lament how the substantive issues regarding the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security have been subsumed onto a polarized and partisan battlefield that prizes symbolism over substance.     

While mostly agreeing with his analysis, a few TTN colleagues had questions, especially regarding his concluding paragraph:

As a liberal Jew who agonizes over what this endless occupation is doing — not only to the Palestinians but also the Jews, both here and in Israel — I wish I could find a movement that actually sought to help Israel realize the folly of the self-destructive path it is currently on and simultaneously advance the cause of a peaceful state for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I can’t find one, on either side of the B.D.S. divide.

Later, he explained in general terms that he respects and supports the work of TTN and the alliance of American Jewish organizations (the Progressive Israel Network) that defends Israel’s legitimate rights to security and sovereignty while also deploring its continuation of the occupation and expansion of settlements.  Specifically, this is the response that Prof. Alterman has authorized TTN to post online:

A number of people have expressed surprise at my disappointment over the lack of a “movement” I could join that would support a two-state solution as well as oppose BDS. I am of course, well aware that a number of groups, peopled by fine admirable individuals do just this. I am associated with a few of them and support all of them, including financially, at least in a couple of cases. Three of them are even in my will. Anytime I can be of value to any of them I try to be. But they do not constitute a “MOVEMENT.” I wish they did.

I thought long and hard about that sentence and expected this reaction; but the statement is accurate. Liberal Zionism is dying both in the United States and in Israel. The governments of both nations are united in their campaign to kill it, aided, I’m sorry to say, by many of the mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States, along with BDSers.

Again, I appreciate and admire the people who are trying to save it. In doing so they are also trying to save me. It would be wonderful if one day they could make my judgment obsolete.